jotta Published is a platform for your writing. Upload articles, events and critical writing here.FEATURED CONTRIBUTORS
Named after a man whose work was contested as “indeterminate and wild”, this year’s Turner Prize is a true representation of its roots; featuring performance and film in a huge way, and with only a small nod to the 2D arts, 2012’s nominees are louder and livelier than ever.
Paul Noble invites us into Nobson Newtown, his universe of miniatures; Elizabeth Price displays a contradictory dance of horror, tragedy and celebration; Luke Fowler analyses film and psychiatry through disjointed archival material; whilst with “unbridled enthusiasm” Spartacus Chetwynd entirely envelopes us in a surreal sphere of ritual, religion and puppetry. The exhibition is almost a barrage of information this year, brilliantly so, and as we move through a maze of corridors the sounds of each ensuing work invites the viewer on. Perhaps this is why Paul Noble’s work has to be placed first this year – anywhere else and the sound of the more energetic works would distract from his intricate drawings.
Noble should not lose out entirely to this noisy lot however; his sixteen-year-long endeavour to build up Nobson Newtown has been recognised by Tate as an extraordinary venture. Each vast grayscale landscape begins as, and subsequently embodies, a simple phrase written in Noble’s ‘nobson’- his personalised breezeblock font. Although Noble states that Newtown exists as a parallel reality to our own, an expansive catalogue of influential figures is evident: Ged Quinn’s imitation of the Old Masters, organic beings – polyps - like those of Yves Tanguy, Renaissance statues, even ripples swirl like Monet’s water lilies; although these may all be completely subjective observations, in creating an adverse universe perhaps Noble cannot avoid referencing some of his own.
These gigantic paper sheets are no doubt fascinating, and the hours spent creating the works are mirrored by the time taken to decipher every miniscule detail and every witty or insightful statement: “WELCOME TO NOBSON’S NEW PERSONALISED HOLIDAY VILLAS”,“TO SEE THROUGH IS NOT TO SEE”. Still, whilst being impressive in scale the draughtsmanship is not particularly well-accomplished and the concept unexceptional, reminding of Charles Avery’s The Islanders; in fact by the time you have been exhausted by the rest of the show this black and white beginning seems only a blip.
The youngest of the shortlist, Luke Fowler, presents the most subtle and contemplative of the works this year. His 93 minute film may sound intimidating, however dipping in and out of it suffices in portraying the intuitive brilliance of this filmmaker who is clearly completely captivated by the complexities of both his medium, and subject matter: society and the cultural status-quo.
All Divided Selves is the final part of a trilogy of films which, through archival material and filmic glimpses of Fowler’s own life, reveal both the ground-breaking techniques of Scottish psychiatrist R.D.Laing and their implications. It is typical for Fowler, whose practice often materialises as reflective portraits of public figures who have become marginalised, empathising with rather than further criminalising them, while instead scrutinising what the victimisation of these individuals reveals about the norms of greater society.
This particular film piece brims with sensory contradictions – technically similar to that of fellow nominee Elizabeth Price – which visually teach the audience to ‘read between the lines’ and to listen, perhaps, to what is not being said: a mother is heard agonizing over her son’s new-found cockney accent as we watch men protecting their houses from an oncoming gale, literally ‘weathering the storm’; images of electric pulses fire across the screen as Liang discusses a patient, revealing his advanced insight into the mechanics of the human brain; the audience is coerced into rejecting their present opinion of this tarnished professor, and tactfully re-trained into believing another. In the most delicate way imaginable, Fowler reveals the ease with which we, as individual or society, can be manipulated.
Following this almost meditative experience is the wholly opposing work of Spartacus Chetwynd: an unabashedly fierce torrent of sound, movement and, mess, actually. Chetwynd is a rebel, performing improv in hand-made costumes to fight the professionalization of art yet recognising the futility of this mission with her chosen name, that of the Roman defeated objector, Spartacus. Her exhibition is just as opinionated as she, and probably more confrontational: we are ordered to “VOTE”, and “NON-CONFORMISTS” are directed to a makeshift performance area constructed of flyposted images of slavering dogs, prints of Plato’s The Republic and polling stations – it is clear that this is wholeheartedly political.
The performance itself is what really makes Chetwynd’s work: to the growing beat of booming drums the audience watches a group of figures - reminiscent of a ragged 16th Century wandering troupe - dance ritualistically, freeze, convulse. The Oracle is brought out, a deity in hessian, and audience members are pulled forward to listen to its predictions – unfortunately I was only given an inaudible choke, but others received bizarre phrases such as “84% of people have better sense than you”. These performances are intended to discuss puppetry in society, giving the audience perceived freedom when in fact their actions are entirely predetermined by the artist. Chetwynd has developed utterly immersive and flawless style of performance – an art form which is undisputedly tough to master. This year, Spartacus Chetwynd might just steal the show.
Elizabeth Price, however, is a strong contender for Chetwynd: a crescendo of clapping draws the audience into the final part of this year’s Turner Prize exhibition, and a tight montage of film, sound and text keeps us there. The Woolworths Choir of 1979 commemorates the notorious fire which took place over thirty years ago in Manchester - like flames from a cold hearth, it begins as architectural diagrams, a diagnostic discussion of the causes and slowly swells into a mass of dancing pop-stars and flailing arms. Pieces of film which would never have met collaborate to tell a story, and a sharp soundtrack which speaks directly to the emotions conceals the voices of the witnesses whose words dart across the screen in bright whites and blaring reds. Harsh clapping beats this text into us like the clicking of a typewriter, and converges to form an ecclesiastical climax as flames blaze and dancers move manically – with this unbelievably evocative soundtrack and genius film montage, Price’s piece is well-placed next to that of Chetwynd who otherwise could have formed the dominant impression of this year’s show.
History to Price is malleable - an outlook signified by her choice of disparate components - still with the deft hand of an expert filmmaker these are united in concept to form a dramatic representation of the power of nature, and in aesthetics by the isolation of one tiny motion: the twist of a wrist. As displayed by both Price and Fowler, the elasticity of digital media enables new connections to be formed between pieces of apparently unrelated footage: for Fowler these are images which direct the way we listen; while for Price it is the soft curve of a tomb effigies’ wave, the frenzied whirl of a dancers’ hand, the distressed thrash of a witness’s arm which somehow creates accordance in an unexpected but absorbing work.
This year the contest for the Turner Prize is possibly an unfair competition between a talented draughtsman and three far louder, and more overtly contemporary showmen. It seems fitting to celebrate drawing, the most fundamental and overlooked of all artistic skills, however after seeing the work of Fowler, Chetwynd and Price, Paul Noble’s work seems meek – and at times his perspective is a little off. Paul Fowler and Elizabeth Price are unquestionably exceptional film-makers, using similar techniques to produce two very different but equally outstanding mille-feuilles of cultural, historical and sensory layering; while Spartacus Chetwynd creates an absolutely surreal experience like no other, but whether every audience will enjoy being drawn into her entrancing, at times uncomfortable, practice is yet to be seen.
This year’s show is sure to be a raucous adventure.